Last time, we examined formal kinds of organizational authority — those that are conferred by institutions or by the organization itself. They are the kinds of authority that are most often in our awareness. Probably at least as important, however, is informal authority — that conferred by the people of the organization without the approval of the organization.
Because organizations are so complex that we cannot possibly formalize all needed interactions, informal authority is essential. But it is also threatening, because it can undermine the intentions of the organization. Here are three examples.
- Affective authority
- Affective authority influences by means of affect or presentation. In person or in recorded media, affective authority depends on charisma, manner, and demeanor. But it can also include eloquence, bearing, anger displays, charm, enticement, seduction, and more. In print or recordings, it further depends on production qualities such as design and aesthetics. It is the principal means by which we motivate and inspire.
- Because of its power, affective authority can threaten the organizational mission. Its power derives from its access to our emotions, outside our awareness. The threat to the organization arises because affective authority can lead us to make choices that undermine or conflict with organizational missions.
- Bargain authority
- Bargain authority derives Because of its power, affective
authority can threaten the
organizational missionfrom bargains — written or unwritten — between people. In the bargain, one or several parties cede specific, defined authority to another, usually for compensation. Once the bargain is struck, either party can invoke the bargain to influence the other with respect to future bargains decisions.
- In healthy cultures, unwritten bargains proliferate. People honor them and value others who do. Some do abuse bargain authority, by reneging on or re-interpreting bargains, or by using bargains to manipulate or coerce others. In toxic cultures, bargain authority abusers succeed, but only at high cost to the organization. In healthy cultures, bargain authority abusers generally fail because they quickly exhaust the pool of potential bargain partners.
- Afflictive authority
- Afflictive authority derives from the ability to inflict shame, pain, blackmail, threats, and other punishments or disincentives. Anyone willing to afflict others can potentially exercise afflictive authority.
- Afflictive authority is essential to human society because it is our primary means of personal defense. But it is also the basis of bullying. It is from skillful use of afflictive authority that bullies maintain their influence over others, including not only their immediate targets, but the bulk of the rest of the population that surrounds them. Afflictive authority is also found in ordinary toxic conflict. For example, in feuds or duels, the parties usually confer afflictive authority on each other. It is the principle vehicle they use to influence each other.
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More articles on Organizational Change:
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- Coming June 19: I Don't Understand: II
- Unclear, incomplete, or ambiguous statements are problematic, in part, because we need to seek clarification. How can we do that without seeming to be hostile, threatening, or disrespectful? Available here and by RSS on June 19.
- And on June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
- Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
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